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Unemployment Down, Salaries Up

Economy: Full-time employment for ACS members is highest in five years

by Sophie L. Rovner
September 2, 2013 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 91, Issue 35

Employment and salary trends in the U.S. chemistry enterprise reflect the moderate recovery under way in the economy as a whole, according to survey results reported this week by the American Chemical Society. Salaries for U.S. chemists have edged up 2.2% in 2013 compared with 2012, while unemployment has continued to fall, from 4.7% in 2011, to 4.2% in 2012, and 3.5% in 2013.

Over the past decade, the unemployment rate for chemists has ranged from a low of 2.3% in 2008—early in the recession—to the 2011 high.

David Harwell, assistant director for career management at ACS, which publishes C&EN, cautions that the latest number might be affected by unemployed chemists who have given up on new job searches and thus are no longer counted in unemployment statistics.

But overall, the survey results are encouraging because the jobs that chemists are finding are full-time rather than part-time, says Elizabeth C. McGaha, assistant director of ACS’s Research & Brand Strategy (RBS) department, which conducted the survey. Full-time employment—defined as at least 35 hours of work per week—rose from 90.0% in 2012 to 91.1% this year, the highest rate since 2008.

The trends reported by ACS are consistent with government data on the rates of employment and unemployment for U.S. chemists. The ACS data are drawn from responses to the 2013 Comprehensive Salary & Employment Survey of the society’s members in the U.S. workforce, including bachelor’s-, master’s-, and Ph.D.-level chemists.

The ACS data show that “the higher your education level, the better off you tend to be,” Harwell says. Some 4.6% of chemists who hold a B.S. degree are unemployed and looking for a job, while 3.0% of those with a Ph.D. are out of work and looking. Similarly, the overall improvement in the median salary for chemists can be attributed entirely to a rise in pay for Ph.D.s, who saw a 1.4% boost over last year, the data show. Chemists who hold a bachelor’s degree actually suffered a 2.6% drop in median salary from 2012 to 2013.


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